The global pandemic has impacted all of us in northeast Oklahoma, but our health care workers have been challenged like no other time in recent history. Our public health experts, physicians, nurses, contact tracers and every employee on staff within Cherokee Nation Health Services have been on the front lines fighting COVID-19 for nearly a year. They have worked long hours to save lives and ensure Cherokee communities remain as healthy as possible.
To recognize the tremendous service and dedication of our health care workers, Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses are collaborating for a “We Heart Our Cherokee Health Heroes” celebration from Feb. 15 to 19. This Cherokee Nation Health Services (CNHS) system-wide event honors the heroes who are serving us all with commitment and courage.
This celebration of CNHS professionals comes at a time when our tribe is still very much depending on them. The CNB board of directors and management team donated funds to purchase every CNHS employee a delivered meal at their work sites. Cherokee Nation has also implemented hazard pay for health employees to thank them for putting themselves at risk so that others can continue to receive health care.
There are many ways to say thank you, but one of the most meaningful is to put words into action by protecting front-line caregivers from transmission of the COVID-19 virus. We must remain vigilant with safety protocols, including wearing face masks and maintaining social distance. The better we reduce community spread of the virus, the easier it is for health care workers to safely treat patients and save lives.
As part of this effort, we’ve offered some of the first COVID-19 vaccinations to our health staff to ensure they remain as safe as possible. Of course, we are also depending on CNHS staff to deliver these vaccinations to our whole community, on top of the many other difficult tasks we’ve asked of them. They are rising to the challenge.
We define a hero as someone who faces danger and responds with courage and strength. CNHS has hundreds of such heroes, who face the dangers of COVID-19 time and again. They treat the sick and provide comfort at the bedside of COVID-19 sufferers who can’t have in-person visits from family and friends due to quarantine precautions. They courageously go to work in ever-changing circumstances, not knowing what each day might bring.
I can’t imagine where Cherokee Nation would be today without these health professionals. Cherokee Nation operates the largest tribal health system in the United States, encompassing the W.W. Hastings Hospital and Outpatient Health Facility in Tahlequah, as well as regional health care centers in Muskogee, Vinita, Ochelata, Nowata, Salina, Jay, Stilwell and Sallisaw. Our facilities see more than 1.3 million patient visits annually. We also provide a myriad of prevention services, the Jack Brown Regional Treatment Center, epidemiology research and emergency medical services.
The observance of “We Heart Our Cherokee Health Heroes” is both a symbolic and tangible appreciation reflecting our deepest respect and enduring support. We’d love for as many of our patients, co-workers and CNHS family members as possible to celebrate with us. On social media, please use the hashtag #cherokeehealthheroes if you would like to give a shout-out to your own special health hero at Cherokee Nation or if you want to share your appreciation for the health care sector in general.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.